Experience and Reliability

by Luke Nix

Over the last several years I’ve come across a couple of “philosophies” when it comes to how a person’s personal relationship to a belief affects their ability to represent it accurately. I have heard people state that if someone does not believe something, then they cannot accurately represent it. The “support” provided is that if they were familiar enough to represent it accurately (and in its most powerful form), the person would believe it. But then I’ve also heard many say that those who believe something cannot accurately represent it. The “support” provided is if someone believes something, they obviously want it to be true, so they will misrepresent a false belief in order to support its truth.

What’s interesting is that I’ve heard both from a couple of the same people, but with regards to different topics: “You can’t trust the disciples of Jesus to tell us the truth about him because they obviously wanted to believe he was God and the resurrection happened,” and “You can’t trust a Christian who used to be an atheist (or other worldview) to accurately represent atheism (or other worldview) because he does not want it to be true.” The only identification of when to use which is, “whichever one supports my own view.” But that is not a valid reason because of its subjective foundation. When I apply either critique is dependent totally on me, and I can change it whenever I please.

The problem is that there is no objective dividing line provided (much less, evidence for the line) to determine which of the claims for reliability to apply when, where, and to whom. It appears, then, that we must apply one of them consistently across the board. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter which one we choose to apply consistently to everyone at all times. I want to try two things. First, let’s attempt to apply either of these to other people…

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